A Brief History of German Wine

16 Jan 2022

As with most wine making history in Europe, our story starts with the Romans. Renowned wine lovers that they were, they found a rather large obstacle in their attempts to bring wine into the recently conquered territory of what we now call Germany, the Alps. Rather than transport heavy containers of their favourite juice over the mountains, they decided it made much more sense to just plant vines in their newly acquired lands. Even at this early stage these “Nordic” wines were seemingly fresher and more diverse in taste than their southern predecessors.

In the 8th Century, Charlemagne regulated viticulture and winemaking, and throughout the Middle Ages wine was a particularly prominent beverage in the Monasteries, where it served as a replacement for the frequently polluted drinking water, documents show that vineyards existed in nearly all of Germany during this period. The church’s dominance over wine-growing was abolished by the conquests of Napoleon in the areas left of the Rhine. Fortunately, the new vineyard owners also attached great importance to quality, and wines from the Rhine and Mosel achieved international success in England, Bohemia and Russia. For quite some time it was considered the best in the world and Queen Victoria became a great advocate for wines such as Riesling, as such, German wine became the height of fashion all over the British Empire.

Then came the decades of upheaval and war that plagued Europe and or obvious reasons, production of German wine, and the demand for it fell dramatically. The effects of the wars led vintners to produce lots of distinctly average wines rather than a few exceptional ones, with Riesling losing it's renown, and in the 50's we were introduced to a wine that still shapes perceptions of German wine today, the notorious Blue Nun. One of the largest selling wines worldwide for three decades, Blue Nun is the main reason some people still consider all German wines to be sweet. In reality half of German wine is considered to be dry, and even the off-dry and sweeter styles possess an elegance and vibrancy lacking in the supermarket staples of the 70s and 80s.

Today Germany produces over 1.3 billion bottles of wine a year, and has regained it's reputation as a producer of quality, with a variety of styles unmatched around the world. Riesling is at the forefront of this renaissance, and if you talk to any of the team about it you will understand why! The ultimate foodie wine, with styles ranging from dry (Trocken) off-dry (Feinherb) to sweet (Spatlese) and even dessert wine (Beerenauslese/Trockenbeerenauslese/Eiswein), Riesling is possibly the most "terroir-expressive" of all whites wines, meaning that the character of Riesling wines is greatly influenced by the wine's place of origin, and there is a cornucopia of different styles and producers to discover.

But do not feel Riesling is your only choice when it comes to exploring German wine, fantastic wines are being made with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in the warmer regions of the country, not to mention the scores indigenous grape varieties to experiment with. Throughout the month of February we will be highlighting some of our favourite producers, so keep an eye on the blog for some fantastic wines that we hope will help you fall in love for the wines of Germany as much as we have!